Benedict XVI "Intensely Concerned" for Madagascar

Prays for a Return to Peace

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 8, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Unite with Catholics of Madagascar in praying for peace at this difficult time of conflict in the country, Benedict XVI is inviting the universal Church.

After praying the midday Angelus in St. Peter's Square today, the Pope dedicated some words to the situation of the island nation in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa.

He affirmed: "In these weeks, strong political tensions are taking place in Madagascar, which have also provoked popular disturbances.

"Because of this, the bishops of the island have convoked for today a day of prayer for national reconciliation and social justice.

"Intensely concerned by the particularly critical moment that the country is going through, I invite you to unite yourselves to the Catholics of Madagascar to entrust to the Lord those who have died in the manifestations and to invoke from him, through the intercession of Most Holy Mary, the return of harmony of thought, social tranquility and civil co-existence."

Escalating conflict

Saturday, 25 people were killed and 167 wounded by security forces following anti-government demonstrations. This followed after the president of the country, Marc Ravalomanana, was challenged by the leader of the opposition party, Andry Rajoelina.

Rajoelina publicly accused the president of misuse of public funds and violation of the constitution, and called for his immediate dismissal. This has been a cause of great tension in the country, with demonstrations and conflicts with the security forces.

The bishops of the country have been trying for days to mediate between both parties. Vatican Radio reported that they met yesterday with representatives of Ravalomanana and Rajoelina in an attempt to negotiate a solution to the crisis.

Archbishop Fulgence Rabemahafaly, president of the bishops' conference, went personally to urge Rajoelina to "choose the path of dialogue." Similar efforts are being undertaken by the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Augustine Kasujja, and representatives from other Christian denominations.